Entering the RITAs. My full circle experience.

I’m not sure if I said anything about entering the RITAs, or the outcome of that contest.

The RITA award is a prestigious award given by the RWA (Romance Writers of America). I didn’t win, nor did I advance, and I did not attend the RWA conference this year that was held in New York City. I didn’t expect to win (though when you enter a contest, there’s a little bit of you that will hope you’ll at least advance.)  Anyway, I didn’t advance, didn’t win, and I didn’t expect to hear anything more about it.

All of Nothing ebook coverBut I received an unexpected email in my inbox today. The email contained my overall score of All of Nothing, something I didn’t know the RWA sent out.

To say that I was stunned would be an understatement, but when I thought about the score, and I mean, really thought about it (meaning, I put away my ego and my pride and honestly evaluated the kind of book All of Nothing is) the score made sense.

I knew a long time ago that All of Nothing didn’t advance to a finalist position. I figured since the contest is open to everyone who wanted to enter, traditional and indie, I had a slim to none chance. After all, when Kristin Higgins and Brenda Novak enter their books, you’re up against talent, several years in the industry, and name recognition. Heck, Nora Roberts has won 21 of them. I won’t disclose whose books I judged, but I will say I judged a big name, too.

I had thought, at least, even if my book didn’t advance, it had receive average scores.

It didn’t.

My book received a 4.33 out of a possible 10.

I don’t know how private the scoring is, so I won’t show you the email contents, but suffice to say, I didn’t make it into the top half, and I didn’t expect that. I also didn’t expect that one judge did not think my novel had a central love story, and a different judge didn’t think it concluded with an HEA. And that makes me wonder if she somehow missed the Epilogue, which clearly shows that they did have a happily ever after.

Anyway, so here’s what I learned entering the RITAs, how I felt, and what I will do differently if I should ever enter again.


What I learned:

  • Your book won’t resonate with everyone.
    You can use this as a way to shake off a bad book, (NO ONE is going to like a book full of plot holes and flat characters, so that reasoning only goes so far) but even a well-written book with amazing characters and the best plot twists known to man won’t appeal to everyone. This is okay, and as authors, something we all deal with. I know All of Nothing is dark. I know Jax is an asshole to the extreme. Maybe even too much. He doesn’t redeem himself until almost the end of the book, and that could have been too long for some readers. Even my reviews on Goodreads are split down the middle. Either readers are blown away or they hate it. There’s not a lot of middle ground in reviews, and I didn’t see any in my scores.
  • You’re forced to read, and that can put you off from the very beginning.
    The RWA has changed this policy for the next contest, but when I entered my book, you had to judge the preliminary round to submit. Being forced to read is akin to being in school and assigned War and Peace. Not everyone wants to read books they are told they must. Also, you were only able to opt out of one genre. My book was in the Contemporary Romance Long category, and it could have been readers didn’t like the genre. Maybe they preferred Romantic Comedy, or Romantic Suspense, or Paranormal. That’s not really an excuse, but it’s natural to not be excited about a genre you don’t care to read in the first place.
  • Have a professional cover.
    This might seem like a no-brainer, or something that you wouldn’t think of for a craft contest, but either way, I have a feeling that somehow the entire package is judged. When I judged and found the author’s name on the title page, you bet I looked on Amazon for the author and what else they had published, and who they were published by. I’m sure the judges did the same for me, and the overall look of my catalog and All of Nothing‘s cover maybe have influenced their feelings toward the book. This is a professional contest put on by a professional organization. Submit a book that is professional from cover to cover.

What I would do differently:

  • Enter something lighter.
    All of Nothing was dark, and it didn’t hit the right notes, obviously. Something lighter might fare better. When you’re reading at the end of the day, and you’re on a deadline to submit your scores, giving your reader something a little more light-hearted may be easier for them to enjoy. Is this playing the system? Nah. I can only think back to the books I particularly enjoyed while judging. I would also offer something with more . . . I don’t know. I don’t want to say chemistry because I think Jax and Raven had chemistry. But maybe a more steamier, sweeter, attraction? Not all of my heroes are jerks. But I would definitely try something not so dark.
  • In that vein, I would enter something shorter.
    All of Nothing was entered into the Contemporary Romance Long category. There’s nothing worse than being forced to read something you don’t like, and having so much of it. I would do the short category. Though I don’t tend to write novellas, so that category may always be out of my reach.
  • Take the contest more seriously.
    I’m a newbie writer. Without written feedback, I can only guess why my book didn’t resonate with readers. Had it been a debut, I would worry that my voice wasn’t strong enough. But I think my voice is strong–I’ve written enough words to find it, and I’ve received compliments on the book. In fact, a woman at my work read it. She’s a prolific reader, and she told me she enjoyed All of Nothing very much and that I was extremely talented. I didn’t know she read it, so I don’t think she said anything because she thought I was expecting it. She didn’t have to say anything at all. I went into that because I’m thinking it was the plot and characters the judges didn’t care for, and not the writing itself. (Which I feel is a very important distinction.) But, I have never worked with a developmental editor or a professional editor of any kind. And if I ever hope to advance in a contest like this, I may have to hire someone who knows the romance market, knows all the tropes involved, and can tell me if I’m on the right track with my writing. I have never queried, have never sent out any of my books on subs, so I don’t even have a line or two from an agent/editor saying I’m on the right track, either. All I have to go on is reviews from my books, and that’s not saying a whole lot because I haven’t put much into marketing preferring to use my time to write instead.

How I felt about the contest:

I don’t feel terrible about my score. You have to face rejection with a thick skin. Since All of Nothing I’ve written five more books. So maybe if my tone or voice missed the mark, at least I’m still working on my craft as it’s natural for every book to be a bit better than the last.

It was interesting being a part of the RITAs. I liked seeing how the process worked and the quality of books entered by my peers.

I may never enter again. Or I may enter a book I haven’t written yet. Something that takes my breath away. Who knows. I do know that if you’re going to compete with the best of the best, you have to take your craft seriously, and if you can do that year after year and get better year after year, then maybe, just maybe, one day, you’ll win.

Have a wonderful week!


Want to try your hand at a contest? Poets and Writers Magazine offers a long list of contests to enter. Everything from poetry to essays. Look here to find out more.

You don’t have to enter the RITAs to enter a contest hosted by the RWA. All the chapters offer some kind of contest, too, though they can be seasonal and not offered at the same time. For a list of contests and chapter events, look here.


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My Wedding Quartet Update

I haven’t been doing much with my series, so there’s not a lot to say about it (she says but after she’s finished typing she has a 1400 word blog post about it).  I have finished book two, which will now be book one. To stop having to give that convoluted explanation, I’ll just refer them by the order they will be published. I changed them because I realized the second book I wrote was stronger, and it would make for a better first book in the series. This will take a little rewriting, as I started the book thinking readers were already going in knowing who characters are, but that’s okay.

I finished the first read-through of book two, and after I finish the read-through of book one, I’ll print them both out and add to book two since I know more about what’s going on with the story.

What’s been dragging me down has been looking at stock photos for the covers. I briefly looked into hiring them out, and depending on how much hair I lose between now and when they are ready to publish, I still might. The problem is, and the problem most indies have, is figuring return on investment versus cost. I found a site that will do custom covers for 350 dollars a piece. Now, if I were only doing a standalone, that would be more than manageable. That also includes a full paperback wrap, so I wouldn’t have to worry about that, either. But being that I’ll have four, well, you can do that math. (In case you don’t want to, that’s $1400.) You can see how I would maybe balk at that. Now, I’m not saying I can do as well as that artist can, probably (most certainly) I can’t. But I’m poor, and I have no problem with saying so. I would have to work a lot of hours to cover that. And with the way my books are selling, I would never recoup that cost.

So, for the past few nights, instead of writing, I’ve been researching wedding covers, looking at stock photos, and slowly losing my mind.

To make matters worse is that yes, there is going to be a wedding in this story, but the bride and groom are not a featured couple in the any of the books, so does it make sense to put a bride and groom on any of the covers?

My books all end with some kind of a wedding proposal or a promise to love forever, so implying my couples will get married at some point isn’t a lie.

Another reason I have so much pause is something someone said in one of those FB book cover groups I keep talking about. Someone said that indies are held to a different standard than trad-pubbed authors are. And I guess they are right. Our covers better be pretty damned special to catch a reader’s eye because we can’t depend on our well-known names to make the sales for us.

nora roberts quartet

I think of Nora’s quartet when I’m looking at my own covers. If I thought I could get away with it, I would definitely do something similar. Look here for the article accompanying the image I borrowed.

If I go with this way of thinking, I most definitely need couples on my covers. Maybe not locked in a steamy embrace, because these books are the same as other books I’ve written. Not a lot of sex, but there is some.

What does that mean for me? Can I put bridesmaids and groomsmen on my covers? Singly? Because I’ve looked through a lot of photos and I can barely find one good couple that looks part of a wedding party, much less four.

Can I put a bride and groom on all my covers?

Items don’t seem to go over as well with indie authors, so choosing bridal bouquets or other wedding paraphernalia may not be enough to make a sale. (See the dreamy covers on Nora’s books above.)

If I take the wedding element away, that gives me more choices, but that still leaves me

Elegant couple posing together.

The plastic, vacant looks on their faces do not match how I feel my characters are portrayed in my books. (Photo purchased from depositphotos)

digging through photos of pretty girls with dorky-looking guys. I don’t know how that happens, but it’s weird. (Out of respect for the men, I won’t post an example here.)

Or I get too “plastic” and they look kind of fake. Definitely not the kind of book I’m writing.

I mean, you know the book covers this couple would end up on. Mega rich, lots of hot sex. And maybe one day I’ll write something like that, but I need down-to-earth couples, and sometimes that means the people look just a little too “real” for a book cover.

It’s a balancing act that makes me want to poke my eyes out.

And while it’s a necessary part of the creative process, to keeping trying, that is, it does make me feel like I’m wasting writing time. Anyone can tell you  that you don’t need book covers if there’s no books. But I’ve blogged about book covers before, and figuring out what looks good, and finding the right photos, takes a lot of time. Not only time, but practice. I have Canva open all the time, shoving photos into their templates, experimenting with font for the titles. I did find this beautiful photo and I thought right away she reminded me so much of Leah, the female main character of my second book. She looks so much like what I envisioned, she literally took my breath away. You might say that would be a sure sign to use her for the cover, because if she evoked that much feeling when I took a look at her, hopefully she would for other readers.

Wedding bouquet in girl's hands.

Leah! Isn’t she gorgeous? 

But, don’t forget she would only be one cover of four. And she is cover worthy, so it’s not that she wouldn’t be perfect. But is she perfect for a series, and more importantly, is she perfect for a contemporary romance cover? Unfortunately, she doesn’t pose with a man in the series of photos that were published on depositphotos with this one. But I have purchased her, (that’s why she doesn’t have a watermark) so I may decide to use her somehow.

Anyway, I have 6 pages of book 3 I have written out longhand that I’ll be transcribing after I finish out this blog post. I still hope to have all four books done by Halloween. Probably not fully edited, but close enough that I should still be able to start publishing them around Thanksgiving. I read Craig Martelle’s book on Rapid Releasing, and to be perfectly honest, what he wrote didn’t give me much hope for a good launch. I have no readers. No one waiting for these, so to tell you the God’s honest truth, it doesn’t matter when I publish. I do know that after they are done I’m going to take a short break because these are going to drive me nuts between now and the end of the year.

I’ll keep you updated on progress though, and next week I’ll share a snippet or two of my favorite scenes so far. I’m glad that Autumn and Cole are the last couple because I’m very much looking forward to getting their story out, and as of right now, it’s what’s keeping me going. I love all my characters, but the sheer scope of writing four books and producing them all at once is daunting and I’m overwhelmed at times. But because of consistency issues, I’m glad I’m taking things slow and writing them all first before I publish.

As for Autumn’s blog posts, I need to get on with typing those out and writing more. As the stories go on, and she interviews more people, her list grows longer, and I’m falling behind. Still not sure what I’ll do with that extra content. It’s looking like more and more they’ll end up on the website to maybe drive some more traffic here. Not sure.

If you’ve stuck with me, thanks for reading! I’ll be visiting Tybee Island as you’re reading this, on a vacation with my sister. After I take a week to breathe and see the ocean, I’ll come back with a clear head and hit the ground running on the second half of my series.

I hope you all are having a great summer!


My books are wide! Check them out at your favorite retailer!

Don’t Run Away: books2read.com/dont-run-away
Chasing You: books2read.com/Chasing-You
Running Scared: books2read.com/running-scared

Wherever He Goes: books2read.com/whereverhegoes1
All of Nothing: books2read.com/allofnothing1
The Years Between Us: books2read.com/the-years-between-us

Try the Tower City Romance Trilogy Today!

The Years Between Us is Available!

It’s May 1st, and The Years Between Us dropped out of pre-order and it’s available! I just approved the paperback so that should pop up on Amazon shortly.

The book has been in pre-order for so long that I forgot it was out there. Since I finished it up and listed it, I’ve written the first book in my Wedding Party series and close to finishing the second book with about 15,000 more words to go.

I’ll chat with you about a couple things, and then I am off for the Sell More Books Show Summit in Chicago for the weekend, hopefully to learn how to market my books and put them in the hands of eager readers. I’ll recap that when I get back.

For now, I’ll let you know I only did pre-order to give myself some time to write. I released All of Nothing in October, and everyone says that six months between books is way too long. I agree. For most indie romance writers, three months is probably the maximum they leave between books, some even publishing 50,000 words every month. I still think I write pretty fast considering I have two children, three cats, and I work a day job to pay bills. I also see my sister once a week, I try to walk and catch up on podcasts, and I write this blog. So it’s not like when I’m not writing I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs. But even if I could sweep all that aside, I don’t think I could produce more than three books a year, and that’s okay. I don’t want to write less than 70,000 word books (now that my novella streak is over) and sometimes that means plotting a little more and taking time with character development.

At any rate, the pre-order I did wasn’t to gain sales during the pre-order period, and that’s a good thing since I only had ONE pre-order on Amazon. I actually clicked the wrong button on Draft2Digital, so I didn’t know until a couple days ago my book was already available through them since April 17th. I would have been upset had I been trying to do a proper launch, but in my way of doing quiet, (AKA not telling anyone) launches, no one probably knew about my mistake.

As my 13 year old daughter likes to say, Whatevs.


May Goals

I have a few May goals.

  1. One is that I need to redo my trilogy covers.
    They are okay as far as being homemade, but I’ve gotten better at my skills, and well, trends have changed since the two and a half years since I published them.  Last night I took a look at the top 100 in contemporary romance on Amazon to get a feel of what’s out there. I’ve been looking at www.depositphotos.com to find new couples. For the amount of open door sex scenes in my books, my couples have too many clothes on. I’ve come to realize this through reader feedback and the fact that Freebooksy, when I did a promo for Don’t Run Away, wanted to put it in the sweet romance category. So I’ll be looking for couples who have a playful, sexy, fun vibe about them. As always, this took some doing because I needed to find couples that looked like they belonged together since’s it’s a trilogy. I’ve also been studying font and the color of the titles. A hot pink/fuchsia is in, along with a hot aquamarine in a handwritten font. I think I got it, but now I have to go through the trouble of creating them, and swapping them out with all the other vendors. Including Ingram Spark if I decide to keep my books listed there. Is it time for a drink yet?
  2. Finish book two of my Wedding Party Series.
    I have book two almost done, and I probably could have finished it if I wasn’t going out of town this weekend. I also realized that book two is stronger than book one, and since the stories parallel the same timeline, I can move book two to into book one position without too much rewriting. Jared and Leah are going to need a bit of rewriting anyway. I wrote on half before my surgery, the second half after, and I feel the ending isn’t as strong as it could be. I’m being very careful how all these are written and published because I want good read-through. To read more of my thoughts about writing a series click here. 
  3. Start book three. 
    I should  be able to start book three. I have the characters and their backstories mapped out. I have an inkling of some things that will happen, but I still need to sit down plot out the BIG BAD and of course, make sure I add some wedding stuff in there. Like, I don’t know, Marnie and James’s actual wedding. They aren’t going to be a premiere couple, but they are the reason this series is in creation, so I better get them married off.
  4. Start and finish an editing project.
    I’m helping a friend of mine edit the sequel to one of her books. I’ve already done one sweep, and she sent it to me again. It shouldn’t take me long to get through it, so I can’t even count this as a goal, just something that I’ll be working on the first week in May. I’m excited for her, and I love helping her. I’m proud of the work she’s done on her books because like you and me, we have a lot going on but she doesn’t let that stop her.

May looks to be shaping up into a busy month, but now that the weather has finally cleared up, my cat isn’t sick anymore, I’m healing from surgery just fine, and whatever else little things I was going through seems to have tapered off for now (knock on wood for me) I should be able to to cruise through writing this series and being able to publish them toward the end of fall/beginning winter of this year, into the rest of winter of 2020. All the while, of course, writing another book, which will be a new standalone that I’m already quietly plotting out.

A writer's work is never done. There is always a new story to tell.


It’s also not lost on me that I’ll be needing to look at promos here soon, and what exactly I can do to bump up sales. The new covers to my trilogy will be a start. To be honest, I’ll probably need to redo the cover to All of Nothing, too. I’ve gotten some reader feedback that Jax is so much of an ass that readers didn’t care for him all that much. Rewriting the blurb and redoing the cover to better prepare readers for his unlikable personality may head off more negative reviews. While I try not read reviews, when opinions make it to me, I try to listen. All of Nothing is very love it or hate it, and if I can prepare my readers by changing the cover to more of a bad-boy type, and rewriting the blurb to focus on how damaged he is, that would be a win for me.

By the beginning of 2020 I’ll have ten contemporary romance books out in my genre. They will be good, solid books, and there’s no reason why I can’t start making some money. I’ve been waiting to build a backlist, which I am doing, quite well, if I do say so myself. Now I just have to put my books to use because there’s no point in writing them if no one is going to be reading them. AmIright? 


If you want to take a look at The Years Between Us, it is live on all platforms. Zia Bishop is in love with an older man, and you’ll have to read to see how that turns out! Click the photo to be directed to your favorite retailer! If you’re waiting for the paperback, that should be available soon. There’s no reason why KDP Print should find anything wrong with it.

Thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend!

The Years Between Us Paperback Cover